The Thing About Paris
Paris. Probably the most visited tourist destination in the world. Probably the most romanticised, overhyped, extravagant cliché of them all. But I fell in love with Paris 10 years before I saw it for the first time. As a student of the French language, it was easy to fall in love with this utopian city that seemed to embody all things French. From the first time I learned to pronounce Champs Élysées to subsequent vocabulary lessons on taking le métro or how to order un café, I was madly, deeply, irrevocably, head over heels in love.
I would listen to Edith Piaf (well, what can I say!), doodle sketches of the Eiffel Tower and dream of another life, one where I’d be born Parisian. As a student, I had Paris all figured out in my head, and I longed to belong to her. To be able to call her my home, to cycle down to the Sorbonne and nibble on freshly baked baguettes whilst flipping through second hand books along the left bank.
I’d been warned, the first time Charles took me to Paris in 2011, that like most Francophiles I might just discover that I was more in love with the idea of Paris, than with the city of light itself. This prophecy couldn’t have been more wrong. I discovered, that it was possible to fall even deeper in love. That it was possible to give your heart away to a city so completely, that it hurt. A bittersweet pain, this love was not completely unrequited, for Paris did give back. It revealed itself, a little at all time. It bared its soul, just sporadically enough to maintain that air of mystère; it held my gaze just long enough to acknowledge my devotion; and it surprised me just often enough to let me know I’ll never truly have Paris all figured out. That, and the fact that my sappiest moment in life (for a cynic and someone who never cries) was the first time I set my eyes on the Eiffel Tower. There I was, standing at the Pyramide du Louvre, looking over the Tuileries, eyes all watery, pretending it was the biting December wind that caused it.
The thing about Paris is, picking just 3 things seems impossible. Writers, poets, impressionists, modernists, composers and a long list of illustrious lovers of Paris have tried to express their feelings and failed. Yet, like every other lovestruck fool, I too shall make my feeble attempt.
Ah! French stereotypes. For every one thats’s ridiculous, there’s one that couldn’t be truer. Yes, Parisian women have a certain sophistication to them. Regardless of whether it was the 60 year old women in pearls and fur I spotted sashaying past the Cartier store at Place Vendôme or the sneaker sporting hipsters holding cigarette butts between glossy black fingernails I brush past outside the metro. No the French are not rude, unless you’re a loud, obnoxious and insufferable tourist (in that case, who wouldn’t be). Most of the kindly old men at the flea market offered me a freebie (and sometimes a story) in exchange for a smile, and a sweet fellow customer had a long conversation with us about travel and India while we sampled cheeses together on Rue Cler. Not everyone sitting in Les Deux Magots is nursing a glass of Kir while engrossed in a novel, but I did see readers on park benches, artists on street corners and sunbathers on the banks of the Seine. Parisians are aware of these stereotypes, and telling by the twinkle in their eyes when you bring up the topic, they’re almost enjoying this little inside joke and are in no hurry to protest.
Let’s face it, have you ever seen anything ugly in Paris? Probably not. I’m not just talking about the art. And no, I’m not generalising. Even the dustbins and toilets are “art directed”. From the beautiful Haussmanian buildings and older Gothic structures to window displays that are so gorgeous, they call window shopping – window licking. The fresh produce in a marché looked as beautiful as the copper utensils in E. Dehillerin. The space invader mosaics as stunning as quirky grafitti in Village Saint Paul. For someone who doesn’t believe in organised religion, Charles spent an awful lot of time inside the churches, for someone who hates the cold and early mornings, I spent an awful lot of time enjoying my morning coffee staring out at the dome of Val de Grace silhouetted against the sunrise. Paris can do that to you, when from time to time her beauty arrests you, makes you forget everything, makes time stand still.
As a travel blogger, the entire world is on my bucket list. Seeing as the world is so large and life is so short, revisiting destinations isn’t something we should be doing. With Paris, however, it’s different. Charles has been thrice, I’ve been twice. I’ve strolled through the Jardin de Luxembourg in the summer, sipped Vin Chaud outside Sacré Cœur in the winter. But no matter how many times I return, Paris will feel just as special. No matter how many times we sample a Foie Gras macaron from Pierre Hermé or stand at Point Zero looking up at Notre Dame, we will feel just as overwhelmed as the first time. Wait, did I just say I’ve only been to Paris twice? Sometimes, when I’m helping others plan their itineraries purely from memory, even I wonder how this could possibly be. The thing about Paris is, it’s etched itself in my mind. Every street, every lane, every little shop, every little corner. When I meet Parisians, they’re often rather stumped about how I, as an outsider have an opinion on whether Pierre Hermé Macarons are better than Ladurée, or how I can see in my mind’s eye the exact building where they live, just going by their descriptions, or how my bookshelf (and now Kindle) is just filled with books set in Paris, (some even in French for when I master it enough to be able to read without looking up the dictionary every now and then). But that’s the thing with Paris, isn’t it? Every time we start planning a trip to Europe, I begin scheming for ways to somehow fly through CDG even if only for a day. Charles jokes that he can’t stand Paris (only because he knows how riled up it gets me) but seeing as he took me there on a surprise 2 day trip for my birthday, seeing as he can’t help but stare transfixed at Notre Dame every time we pass it, I know he fell in love too (although he’ll never admit it).
Are you a hopeless fool, madly in love with Paris like I am, or is there another city that’s stolen your heart? Tell us! And if you know me, you know how much I enjoy talking about Paris, so feel free to drop us a line if you have any questions for your next trip there!